I read a lot of short stories in grade school, but few struck me like "Flowers for Algernon." As a bright and eager young boy, I shared Charlie's great enthusiasm for learning. I marveled at his incredible ability to soak in knowledge and I desperately wanted to be as smart as he became. I wanted to be a genius like him, and probably for reasons not far removed from his. When it became apparent to me that Charlie was going to lose all the knowledge he had accumulated, I was devastated. I so valued intellect that the loss of it seemed unbearable.
On the timescale of a life, little time has passed. A blip. A step. I'm maybe twelve years older. I'm still just a babe! I wonder how much I have changed since I first read the story. Perhaps little. I'm a graduate student. I read hungrily and I foolishly dream of one day becoming a great scholar. And yet, something is different. Tonight when I read Charlie's story the things that impressed me in middle-school didn't have the same effect. I didn't care much about Charlie's mastery over dead languages and mathematics and literature. I didn't even care about his expansive vocabulary and poetic language (though I did admire it). The story wasn't about a dumb man getting smart and then getting dumb again. To tell the truth, I don't think I can even say what the story is about. I'm not sure I want to attempt it. It is about so many things, more than I could list. It's the kind of story you hold with you as you go through life. It's the kind of story that, if you hold onto it, will give clarity at certain moments.
Here are some of my favorite quotations. This is from the expanded novel-version.
"I dint know mice were so smart." (6)
"Dr Strauss said I had something that was very good. He said I had a good motor-vation. I never even knowed I had that." (7)
"Prof Nemur says if it werks good and its perminent they will make other pepul like me smart also. Maybe pepul all over the werld. And he said that meens Im doing somthing grate for sience and Ill be famus and my name will go down in the books. I dont care so much about beeing famus. I just want to be smart like other pepul so I can have lots of frends who like me." (9)
"You cant eat before a operashun. Not even cheese." (10)
"The more intelligent you become the more problems you'll have, Charlie. Your intellectual growth is going to outstrip your emotional growth." (33)
"I'm a human being, a person--with parents and memories and a history--and I was before you ever wheeled me into that operating room!" (112)
"This day was good for me. I've got to stop this childish worrying about myself--my past and my future. Let me give something of myself to others. I've got to use my knowledge and skills to work in the field of increasing human intelligence. Who is better equipped? Who else has lived in both worlds?" (139)
"Here in your university, intelligence, education, knowledge, have all become great idols. But now I know there's one thing you've all overlooked: intelligence and education that hasn't been tempered by human affection isn't worth a damn." (173)
"And as I lay there with her I could see how important physical love was, how necessary it was for us to be in each other's arms, giving and taking. The universe was exploding, each particle away from the next, hurtling us into dark and lonely space, eternally tearing us away from each other--child out of the womb, friend away from friend, moving from each other, each through his own pathway toward the goal-box of solitary death... But this was the counterweight, the act of binding and holding. As when men to keep from being swept overboard in the storm clutch at each other's hands to resist being torn apart, so our bodies fused a link in the human chain that kept us from being swept into nothing.... Alice knows everything about me now, and accepts the fact that we can be together for only a short while. She has agreed to go away when I tell her to go. It's painful to think about that, but what we have, I suspect, is more than most people find in a lifetime." (205)
"But why am I so irritable? Especially when Alice is so good to me?" (206)
"Why am I always looking at life through a window?" (207)
"P.S. please tel prof Nemur not to be such a grouch when pepul laff at him and he woud have more frends. Its easy to have frends if yo let pepul laff at you. Im going to have lots of frends where I go.
P.S. please if you get a chanse put some flowrs on Algernons grave in the bak yard." (216)